Working In Remote Teams: What You Can Learn From The ICT Industry
This is the third article in a series about lessons from the ICT sector that can help you to face the challenges of the current lockdown.
In a Ghanaian workplace, it is common to have a lot of discipline and controls in place to ensure that employees are productive and are not being distracted. However, how is that going to work if people are supposed to work from home due to the Covid-19 crisis?
The software industry has learned how to deliver remotely
20 years ago, a typical software project would start with a large requirement document that describes what is to be built. A software company would be contracted. Then, a team of developers would start building what was in the documents. They would all write small pieces of code and share these in files on a pen drive to be merged later on. Months later, there would be a test version ready for the customer. Often, these projects were not successful. Customers were not happy with the result. Misunderstanding or new ideas during the production time of the software are some of the reasons. Frequently, budgets would double or triple during the execution. That is why in 2001 a group of ICT professionals came up with the “Agile Manifesto” pledging for fast deliveries by teams of developers and very short feedback cycles. Nowadays, numerous cloud tools allow developers to work in the same environment simultaneously. In addition, “Agile” has completely changed the practice of software development. It has equally made it a lot easier to work remotely and keep projects small.
Let’s look at the main ingredients that can help your team while you are not working in the office.
An Agile way of working
At the CoreNet Global Conference in Brussels in September 2009, a definition of the agile way of working was launched: Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it). This requires a very different work culture that needs time to practice, and in particular needs a different mind-set of the management of an organization.
The principles formulated in the Agile Agenda are:
View work as an activity not a place,
Focus on performance not presence,
Create trust-based relationships not hierarchies,
Embrace innovation rather than bureaucracy, and
Value people more than property.
Paul Allsopp, The Agile Organization, 2001.
The scope of this article does not allow to extensively discuss all paradigms related to Agile but will concentrate on some practical tools from the SCRUM framework, that can help you to work with your team remotely.
Working in short cycles or sprints
Rather than planning projects with a long-time horizon, agile projects are organized in short iterations or sprints of one to three weeks. Every sprint has a clear time zone and a well-defined result, as the various tasks needed to achieve these results are assigned to the various team members. Each cycle starts with a planning meeting to specify these ‘ingredients’, and ends with a retrospective: a short evaluation meeting to discuss possible improvements in the team. Work agile means continuous improvement in small steps, where the team learns from every sprint to do better in the next sprint.
Every day at a fixed time (for example: 8:30 am) everyone gathers on a video conferencing call to touch base. During daily stand-ups, the team discusses what everyone had done the previous day, and what problems have been encountered. Then the targets for the coming days are shared. Everyone should have the chance to speak out and tell what they need from others to do their work properly.
Joint electronic work environment
In a joint cloud archive, team members can share documents with various levels of authorization (read-only, editing), and when web applications are being used to support business processes, staff can login anytime anywhere to do their work. In fact, when working with cloud-based documents and software, there is no reasons to work from the office.
Online monitoring tools
There are many online monitoring tools to collaborate on projects, such as SLACK, JIRA or ASANA. A particular one to mention for agile teams is TRELLO (there is a free version available that does the job well). With an account for everyone on www.trello.com you can create a planning board and assign tasks to team members on an electronic dashboard with sticky notes. Team members will move their sticker from “to do” to “doing” to “done” while everybody can see their progress, making it completely transparent what everyone is working on.
Use sticky notes to create a Trello board at a central place in your home and use it for your daily family routine during this period. Also, Include tasks for every person including children.
Figure 1: A sample Trello board
As the Agile way of working is not so much about being at the office but more about getting things done and produce a certain result, it can be a good practice to do ‘organized online demo-sessions' where team members will show their work to the rest of the team, or customers. At the office, an employee would be requested to do a power point presentation. Fortunately, video conferencing software also provides for a “screen sharing” option. Employees should be ready to present their work on a weekly basis, focusing on the result, rather than the number of hours spent on a certain task.
Author: Diana van der Stelt, Sales Director at Trinity Software Center, Kumasi and director at Maxim Nyansa IT Solutions Foundation, Tantra Hills, Accra, a training center for ICT professionals.
Member, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana.
For comments, contact [email protected] , www.trinitysoftwarecenter.com